Results on Maryland's annual reading and math tests were generally up this year, but overall improvement, particularly among middle schools, was nothing to shout about. And while Baltimore students continue to make good progress, the city still falls way behind the rest of the state. State and local education officials need to look at a number of different solutions in their search for greater achievement.
The yearly state assessments are used to show compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind law, which emphasizes annual progress. While more Maryland students are showing grade-level proficiency in reading and math compared with last year, the increases, for the most part, were no more than 5 percent.
As was true last year, there is a pattern of declining performance as students progress from elementary to middle schools that has state education officials justifiably worried. And despite understandable enthusiasm among Baltimore school administrators that, in some instances, students made greater gains in reading and math than the statewide average, those increases were fairly small and the overall performance of the city's middle schools was still abysmal. Among other priorities, the new interim schools CEO, Charlene Cooper Boston, should concentrate on middle school reform in a big way.
There are likely no quick solutions. While the seven Baltimore middle schools that the state wanted to turn over to outside managers in April showed no real improvement, proficiency levels slipped in almost all grades at the three elementary schools that are being run by Edison Inc., suggesting that putting more schools in the hands of private contractors is hardly a cure-all. Baltimore schools that showed progress were some of the newer, innovative schools - such as KIPP Ujima Village Academy - that have high expectations for all students and where teachers band together to help students who start falling behind.
State education officials are looking to promote that spirit of cooperation among teachers - with leadership from strong principals - at more middle schools. And throughout the state, longer-term efforts are needed to ensure that middle-grade instructors have mastered the subject content they teach, perhaps through a separate certification process or some other test of their qualifications.
The latest test scores show that the middle school crisis is persistent and not isolated. With NCLB as a backdrop, all Marylanders have a stake in trying to fix this problem sooner rather than later.